Perfectionism, Competition, Comparison and Life’s Pendulum

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I struggle with perfectionism, competition, and comparison.  I need to enter a 12 step program and I need to find one quickly.  It has been a battle that I’ve fought my whole life.  You see I’ve created this gold standard that I need to drive for, and the standard is excellent, perfect, the best.  I feel like I must be the best or at least rank with the best to be validated.  One rarely meets this standard of excellence or perfection.  I don’t know anyone that can say with complete certainty that they are the very best.  My problem is when I don’t meet my unrealistic standards, I become my own bully – I claim “I suck,” or, “I’m bad,” or “maybe I should just quit.”  My personal self-critique is unhealthy, bad for my self-esteem, and a poor example for my daughters.  But how does one learn to silence this inner critic?

The flip side of perfectionism is that it has been a driving force and led to success throughout my life.  It has driven me to excel at school and always shoot for the honor roll, to graduate from law school and pass the bar, to relentlessly work to represent my clients to the best of my ability in the courtroom and beyond.  However, if I don’t get an A in a class, if I’m not in the top 5% at law school, if I lose a tennis match, if my writing is not published or responded to, then my inner bully gets to work dragging me into a mini depression.  Why write?  You’ll never be a writer.  You’re not smart. An endless from the harshest critic.

How come the balance scales so heavily tilt to the critic rather than the champion?  How do words shouted in praise get swallowed in whispered criticism?

Life is a pendulum.  I swing high and rejoice, but gravity will pull me back down.  A constant shifting of tides as the earth moves slowly around the sun.  None of our stations are permanent.  Constant changes and shifts will bring us high then low then high again.  I must find the love from inside myself to create an internal equilibrium as I am swept up and then swing back down, knowing I will soon be up again.

The joy of the swing.

“Higher, higher,” my big girl shouts as I push her and she sails through the air.  I push the little one too and she squeezes the chains with both hands.  Her knuckles turn white and a grin spreads across her face.

“When I close my eyes it feels like I’m going to fall,” my big girl explains as her big brown eyes squeeze shut, her feet in the air shooting above me as I continue to push this toddler who more and more is becoming a little girl.  “But I don’t fall.  It just feels that way.”  She laughs.  Up she goes and then back down.   She delights in the ups and downs, how it makes her stomach lurch, her eyes gently closed.

“I love the swing,” big girl states.

“Me love swing,” my baby says in her unexpected low gravelly voice, which always makes me smile.

I watch them swing back and forth, the chains squeaking loudly, a loud moaning chorus to the ups and downs.  I like the swing too.  The ups and downs are what it is about.  There is no such thing as perfect.  No life comprised only of successes.  Gravity always brings us down.

How boring and lonely life would be if we all lived atop the highest peaks and were never able to venture down into the valleys below.  There is beauty in the canyons carved out through the passage of time.  You fall into these canyons, the valleys, and the grasslands and you see the rivers, cliffs, pines, spruce, aspens, wildflowers, wildlife …  Life.   The return trek up the mountain is intense.  One scrambles for a decent hold that doesn’t crumble beneath your fingers.  Your foot slides down as you search for solid ground.  You fall.  You cross tree level.  Life becomes scarce.  But eventually after climbing, working, and struggling you reach the summit.  You see the sky. The sun.  The clouds.  The apex.  The majesty.  The endless possibilities.  You are alone.  You feel grateful for all that you have seen along the way.  You breathe.  You rest.  You know the descent will soon begin.

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An Ode to AAA

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Every year I debate whether to pay the $100 renewal fee for my AAA card.  I don’t know why I debate this payment in my head, but I do.  I just paid the renewal fee a couple of weeks ago, and once again I’m relieved that I did.

Today my girls and I had a fun day planned.  We were going to meet a friend and her kids at the pool.  All the parents out there know that getting two toddlers to the swimming pool is not the easiest feat.  Our morning itinerary included getting dressed, using the potty at the precise moment before we left and before swimsuits were put on, so as to not have to use the potty immediately after entering the swimming pool, which would entail getting out of our wet swimsuits in a public restroom with two wet whiney toddlers.  I applied copious amounts of sunscreen.  I packed swim diapers, a change of clothes, floaty devices, pool toys, coolers with lunches and cold drinks, and a stroller to lug all our equipment.

As I was preparing for the pool today, my girls were in unusual sorts.  They would play well for a few minutes then I’d hear crazy screaming from my oldest, “The baby took my pots, I’m baking a cake,” she cried.  “Give it back!”  Her screams were earth shaking.  “She stole my dinosaurs!!!!”  This morning the screaming occurred at 15 minute intervals, play nicely for 15 minutes, then screaming and hitting.

“ROAR,” my littlest shouted.  As I approached to take away the toys that instigated their repeated arguments.  My baby has started roaring at people.  She roars at me when I try to change her diaper, put her down for a nap, or brush her teeth.  She roars at the dogs when they get too close to her food.  She roars at bugs outside, or on the road she roars at cars driving by.  My husband and I are now constantly repeating, “Please don’t roar. Roaring isn’t nice.”  See this baby knows how to use her words, she just chooses to ROAR and when I say ROAR, I mean she ROARS.  Her guttural roars have become pretty aggressive.  The dog flees, the big girl cries, and my baby knows her ROARS are powerful.

Finally, we were ready.  I got the girls outside, locked the dogs inside, and loaded the car with a profuse amount of swim equipment, sufficient for a morning at the pool.  My baby screaming, “No pool. Me Wanna Play Outside. No Pool, Mama, PLAY OUTSIDE!!!”  I turned the key, no sound.  My battery was dead.

“Okay girls, we’re not going to the pool.  The car won’t start.”

At this point the Baby started screaming, “Pool Mama, Me Wanna Go to the Pool!  Mama, Me Wants to GO TO THE POOL.”  Clearly, she woke up on the wrong side of the crib, an indication of how my morning had gone thus far.

A couple weeks ago, I wrote that taking my car to the carwash was a pointless venture because minutes after leaving my car is covered in snacks. (I wish I knew how to insert a permalink in this blog -“I Will Vacuum More – Or Maybe I Won’t”).  The post car wash clean usually only lasts for the return drive back to my house.  Well, the other reason, taking my car to the carwash never seems worthwhile is because every time I take my car to the carwash, they accidentally hit the hidden light switch above my steering wheel that ignites the hidden light that cannot be seen.  I therefore leave my car in the garage over night with the hidden light on and my battery dies.  Over the past several years this has happened several times.  However, I do not take my car to the carwash frequently enough for this to be burned into my brain.

My solution to today’s snafu, I didn’t panic, I wasn’t too upset, I picked up the phone and dialed AAA.  “Hello,” the lovely operator said, “How can I help?”

“My battery died and I need a jump start,” I respond to the kind lady.

“Are you safe?” She asked.

“Yes,” thinking as safe as one can be with a roaring and biting two year old and her big sister.

“I’m glad,” she said, “a driver will be there in less than an hour.”

*****

“You really don’t need a boyfriend when you have AAA,” my sister, single at the time, confided in me after AAA had replaced a flat tire for her on the side of the road.

“So true,” I said. “And if you have a boyfriend he doesn’t really need to know anything about cars.  AAA may even be more reliable than most boyfriends, a phone call away, to your rescue in less than an hour.  Have you ever met a man that is that reliable?”  We both laughed.

*****

I love my husband, he is truly my best friend, and I know how lucky I am.   I also am fully aware that it is best that we all learn to jump start our own cars and change our tires.  I aim to have someone teach my daughters to do these things, but if we fail to do so, I will rest easy knowing that they will definitely be added to the AAA Family Plan.

But for all of you single women out there, I grew up with one, you really don’t need a man if you have:

(1) AAA card

(2) The number for a good handyman, and if this handyman is also a plumber, you’ve hit the jackpot

(3) A big dog

(4) Hmmm, I can’t really think what else to add to the list, cable television?

*****

As for today, I think it may be smarter if the girls and I stick to our classy backyard inflatable pool.  My handy husband filled it up.

I’m Going to Love You, Forever and Ever, Forever and Ever Amen

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“Digging up bones, I’m digging up bones, exhuming things that’s better left alone.  I’m resurrecting memories of a love that’s dead and gone.  Tonight I’m sitting alone digging up bones.”

The familiar and warm crooning of Randy Travis filled my ears.  My sister and I buckled into the backseat of my father’s dark blue Peugeot station wagon speeding through the streets of New York City.  My father quickly switched lanes and I slid into my sister.  Our voices young and pure, “Digging up bones,” singing the chorus in unison, songs etched in our little minds.

My father met my gaze in the back seat.  Michael had the habit of telling a story while driving, taking his eyes off the road and actually looking at you.  It was terrifying and surprising that he never got in accidents.  None of his kids dared tell him to focus on the road or remind him that he was driving and there were other cars on the road, instead we all suffered a terrified excitement as we drove with him.  “A city driver,” he always said, one aspect of his larger than life persona.

It was our Wednesday to have dinner with him.  He drove us across town, crossing from the Upper West Side to his studio bachelor pad on the Upper East Side. It had become our Wednesday ritual, Matthew would be waiting at Michael’s apartment and we would walk the two blocks to Mumbles, a restaurant with a green awning nearby.  Each Wednesday we passed the same homeless man on the corner who would ask us for change, “No Man, I don’t have anything,” my father would say, his words and vernacular shifting to a street talk I only heard him use with friends or other men on the street.  Then sometimes, to my surprise, he would drop a Five Dollar bill into the man’s hat and tell him to grab a burger.  We’d fantasize that the homeless man on the street actually had a penthouse on Park Avenue, “you never know,” my father would say.

As we’d get to the restaurant our booth would be waiting for us.  My dad’s diet coke sitting in its position, my sister’s ginger ale, my sprite, and my brother’s coke, each drink and meal laid out in its appropriate spot.  They knew where we sat and what we ate and drank each Wednesday.  This was our family’s new normal, our version of the traditional family dinner.  His best friend John would often meet us at the restaurant.  He had an expletive tattoo on the inside of his lip that my sister, brother, and I found hilarious.  He appeared normal, strikingly normal for a friend of my father’s, but when he pulled his lip down and we saw the F—- Y—, I learned that looks could be deceiving.  He would laugh and tease us, Uncle Mo, we called him.

My dad had colorful friends.  His friends didn’t look like my friends from schools parents.  Michael’s friends were people that as I got older I may have been scared of if they had approached me in a dark alley, but as a child I recognized their gentle souls and had no fear.  One had tattoos that covered every inch of his body up to his face.  My sister and I analyzed each image until we found our favorites.  We sat outside our loft on the hot and dirty pavement, trying to determine which one was the best.  He’d smile and laugh listening to our serious commentary.  These friends of my fathers had stories that memorized us.  Later I learned that these were friends found in a new found sobriety, a family of support in their recovery, vibrant lives stitched across all socio-economic and racial backgrounds.  Colorful characters with lives that were even more dramatic than I knew.

We walked back to his apartment passing the same man, begging for change, who this time wished us a goodnight.  My brother would accompany my Dad to an AA meeting, listening to men and women tell their stories of mistakes made and recoveries found in the basement of the church a couple of blocks away.  I was jealous that only he got to hear the stories.  He would then spend the night in my dad’s studio on a mattress on the floor.  He ran up the steps to Michael’s apartment to do homework as Elizabeth and I piled into the back of the dark station wagon, the old leather seats cracking and sticking to my legs.  Michael lit a cigarette and pressed play on the cassette player and Randy Travis’s voice blared from the backseat speakers.

The three of us, barreling through the city, belting out, “I’m going to love you forever and ever, forever and ever amen,” as buildings and city life sped by in a blur outside of our windows.

“Oh, I’m going to love you forever and ever, forever and ever, amen.”

*****

Excuse the lack of editing, the girls are awake.  I’m preparing for my Dad’s funeral next week and digging up the good memories.  Today I am happily putting on my rose colored glasses and remembering good times.  Thanks for reading and again please excuse the quick edit.

I Will Vacuum More (Or Maybe I Won’t)

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“I will at least vacuum on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays,” I chant in my head as I glance at the floor and see my Basset Hound’s hair bunched together like tumble weeds on my hardwood floor, floating down the hall as the fan turns on overhead.  “I must vacuum at least three times a week, this is disgusting,” I think, “I am a complete failure of a stay at home mother and wife,” the words echo repeatedly in my head over and over again.  How I have gotten to the point of equating vacuum frequency and my self worth, hmmm … I have no idea? Irrational comparisons.

My big shopping day is on Tuesday morning when my mother in law is watching the girls.  On Tuesday, I try to get all my shopping done for the week.  The goal is to write down lists of recipes with fresh ingredients for each night of the week and stock the refrigerator full with dinners, lunch meats, and fresh fruit.  Tuesday night we will eat chicken with a fresh vegetable side, Wednesday there will be fish, and Thursday a pasta meal.  Those days I cook I alternate from chopping vegetables and preheating the oven and telling my girls that I will play with them in a minute, right after I put the chicken in, or after I season the vegetables.  I need to just get one more load of laundry in the machine, a stack of clothes folded and put away before dinner, “girls just give me one more minute,” I repeat like a broken record.  If I cook dinner in the evening there is not much time for post nap fun.  There is no time to go to the playground, no time to meet up with a friend, and I can’t quite figure out how all the other mothers seem to cook and fill the afternoon with outdoor fun.  Though admittedly I am a culinary novice.

Some weeks I get dinner cooked and served every night.  The food groups are all represented and I feel a sense of pride that I have achieved culinary success.  I smile as my husband walks through the door, feeling a little Martha Stewartesque.  Other weeks, lots of weeks, I call my husband at work, “Can we just order take out tonight?” On these weeks I just can’t seem to pull it together.

Google is my answer to all my culinary and parenting questions.  To a certain degree I don’t know how my mother lived without it, but maybe she was mentally healthier without it.   Most days my husband comes home and a screen is pulled up on his laptop with the search terms – How long to bake chicken breasts? How long to bake potatoes? How do you cook asparagus?  He laughs to see my googled “how tos” pulled up on the screen.  I’ve cooked a million chicken breasts, but I’m still looking up the time and temperature of the oven.  I don’t like to take risks.  I’m a rule follower.  I follow recipes to the T.  For my risk adverse rule follower personality type the Internet is a lifesaver, a safety net of endless answers to all my culinary questions.

The Internet serves as my lifesaver and also my own personal hell (especially as an uber competitive perfectionist).  If you google “what to do about dog hair?” – the only answer you’ll get is that you must vacuum every single day.   Which leads me to wonder, does every shedding pet owner in the world vacuum on a daily basis?  Before the Internet became mainstream, a mother could use her internal barometer to compare her housekeeping, the status of her kids, and the dinners she cooked.  She could be blissfully ignorant of how she measured up in comparison to all of her friends, and back then her friends only included her immediate circle (whom she saw and spoke to regularly).  Now her friend circle has been exponentially expanded via Facebook and social networking, it extends back to acquaintances from childhood, middle school, and elementary school.  Sure, back in the day, she had certain friends and her mother-in-law that made delicious home cooked meals and mopped pristine floors, but in her mind they could be the outliers, the overachievers.  With the advent of the Internet, Facebook, and Pinterest, I am now painfully aware that some mothers prepare glorious meals every night, some cook seven meals on Sunday and freeze them for the entire week, and they puree their veggies and hide then in their macaroni and cheese.  These mothers have been creatively crafting with their kids all day long, they hand sew keepsake baby shower gifts, and come Halloween their kids costumes are hand stitched by their mothers.  These mothers vacuum daily, these mothers mop, and these mothers iron too.  I am competitive, but I cannot compete with these mothers.  Seeing their perfection can often drag me into motherhood despair.

In my own defense, what is the point of vacuuming and mopping all morning when the dog hair tumbleweeds will return in a couple of hours?  What is the point of taking my car to the car wash when the next ride we go on, my two year old will pour her snacks all over the back seat?  My version of a car wash is to let my dog in the back seat to eat up all the old cheerios, crackers, and pirates booty.  I should let him do this on a weekly basis, but sometimes the weeks get away from me.  Am I supposed to sacrifice my at best two free hours a day during naptime to clean or vacuum, maybe?

I chant as I get in the shower, “I will vacuum on Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday.”  Unfortunately, I have already failed. I’ve vacuumed a couple times, but not enough.  The Bassets hair will never be erased from my floors.  But on a happier note, I’ve cooked dinner a lot this week (only a couple of nights of takeout), we’ve planted tomatoes, splashed in the pool, and played endless amounts of lost boys where I pretend I’m Captain Hook and chase the girls around the yard.  So maybe I need to learn to give myself a break.  Maybe there is more to being a stay at home parent than vacuuming and home cooked meals, at least I hope so.

I guess the point is that no one can do it all, but you can torture yourself trying.  Although sometimes it seems like someone may do it all or have it all, this is impossible.  Once a task moves further up the priority list another must slide further down.  This, my friends, is life.  For the rest of 2013, instead of worrying about what I haven’t done or haven’t done well, I will focus on what I have done.  My glass will reflect the fullness of what has been completed rather than emptiness of what is left undone.  If my girls and my husband don’t care then neither will I.

P.S.

I am embarrassed because this post is a feminist’s nightmare.  I am an educated woman, why do I care about these 1950’s housewife standards?  But, Cie la vie, I am an educated woman and care about many things and my housekeeping shortcomings falls on the list.